South Africa’s Big Five.

California to South Africa is a very far journey: first a cross-continental flight to New York, overnight hotel and then 14:30 hours to Johannesburg. Having been there a couple times (Design Indaba and a frog studio for some years after the deal with Flextronics), I followed an invitation by the Richemont company to join their annual executive retreat at a lodge next to the Kruger National Park. After Cape Town with its historic downtown, trendy Camps Beach and the still dire townships, the lodge was nature pure – naturally within a very exclusive enclave.

“Alone you can walk fast, together you can walk far”, African Proverb.

But being that close with nature and wildlife let me forget everything else: directly under my balcony toward the Crocodile River were elephants and hippos swimming and wading across the river, huge crocodiles lay lazy and with the help of binoculars I could see a leopard.

Naturally, I couldn’t leave the house alone by foot – the monkeys around the lodge were supposed to be especially aggressive – and a golf cart had to be used to get around. The lodge also offered ranger-guided game drives, and I decided to get up early and take the first one at 5:30 AM. As on any game drive, one hopes to see the “Big Five” close-up: the African lionAfrican elephantCape buffaloAfrican leopard, and rhinoceros.

It was just the ranger and me, and we passed the park entry at the crocodile bridge still at dark. Slowly the sun came up and the stark landscape began to glow – whatever Hemingway wrote about Africa was true. The animal kingdom was very active and we saw hyenas, buffalos, rhinos, zebras, elephants and antilopes. Then, the ranger stopped and said “just heard from a collegue that some lions are around” – so we waited for a couple minutes. Then this happened…

 

We sat quiet in the car, but aside of the fascination it also was very scary. So many lions and what if they decide to attack the car? – even as the ranger had a taser and a gun? Some of them even looked at me… Anyway, after they all had passed us and walked a while on the path, they moved back into the bush, and after some respectful wait, the ranger started the car and drove on slowly. After about half a mile we saw five antilopes and many vultures on the trees…

Next day, I flew back from the small and charming Kruger Park airport to Johannesburg and from there to Singapore. Sadly, Singapore was wrapped up in a nasty haze caused by set fires in Indonesia – what a contrast to the crisp air in untouched wilderness…

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